HR departments with oomph bring energy into the workplace by ensuring employees are motivated and rewarded.
Madame Tussauds: Fiona McGregor
Do you have star quality? If you do, then Fiona McGregor, head of HR at Madame Tussauds London, wants to hear from you.
The Tussauds Group merged with Merlin Entertainments, the world’s second-largest entertainment group after Disney, in July 2007, and the new group employs more than 13,000 staff worldwide.
The group includes 50 attractions and four hotels in 12 countries, each one supported by a separate HR function and all, says McGregor, empowered at local level. McGregor, who joined the London waxwork attraction in 2005, reports to the director for Madame Tussauds London and Warwick Castle, and is responsible for the welfare of more than 250 employees.
McGregor has flourished in this HR business model. “As the attraction is founded on customer service, its success is dependent on my employees being able to help deliver a magical journey for every visitor, which affects the bottom line,” she says.
McGregor says HR needs to be operationally aware, willing to take risks and have the gravitas to make a difference while leading by example. Equally, HR should not be afraid to challenge local board or global group decisions.
“Different departments devise initiatives that need our support, so we have to become experts in their services to be able to deliver appropriate training,” says McGregor.
Madame Tussauds considers the employee experience to be as important as the customer experience, so her team works hard to create what she describes as “magical moments” for employees.
For new employees this is first experienced in the form of the company’s one-and-a-half day induction programme ‘Creating The Magic’, which encourages starters to take part in interactive quizzes with colleagues, helping them to bond as quickly as possible.
Last year, McGregor launched a monthly magazine, HR Hot Stuff, based on glossy celebrity titles. “We wanted to promote HR’s profile,” she enthuses. The magazine publishes star nominations for employees who have been voted for by their peers for outstanding work, along with monthly features, promotions and new joiners.
McGregor believes HR must listen to employees and learn from them. With this in mind she set up a forum, Your Voice Counts, which gives elected representatives and their constituents a say in the day-to-day running of the business.
“Listen to your employees. They really tell you what they want,” she says.
Change the carrot
On the back of this, McGregor introduced the Magic Miles incentive scheme, through which employees can nominate each other for outstanding service and build up a balance of miles to be exchanged for vouchers.
Other reward initiatives are one-hit wonders – quirky one-off incentives to keep employees engaged. McGregor says: “You constantly need to change the carrot so you keep everything fresh and exciting. This helps to keep up healthy internal competition so that employees strive to exceed customer expectations.”
Tussauds gave a car to its Employee of the Year – the person with the most peer votes – in January 2007. Twelve shortlisted employees then had to take part in a Deal or No Deal-style game at the Christmas party.
Keep it fresh and current, is McGregor’s advice. “Never settle for what you have in place already. What’s in today is gone tomorrow,” she says.
London & Quadrant Housing Group: Sally Jacobson
Every 20 minutes of every working day another family is housed by London & Quadrant Housing Group (L&Q). The housing association has also been listed in The Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For five years in a row, and group HR director Sally Jacobson has played a major part in achieving this accolade.
Jacobson has been with the association for 20 years, sits on the executive board of 10, and has championed the growth of the organisation through a number of mergers and acquisitions. It equates to around one merger or acquisition every year, so it’s no surprise that the association has expanded from 160 employees in 1987, to 1,000 today. The association has an annual turnover of £260m and manages 54,000 homes in the South East and London from 18 different offices.
The turning point for Jacobson came in 1999 when she introduced the first annual staff survey of the then 600-strong employee population. Feedback revealed that poor performance was a major concern, which had a knock-on effect on employee engagement.
Success breeds success
“I wasn’t proud of the 1999 results,” she admits. “I realised there was a need to empower our managers to tackle poor performance immediately.”
She says the only way the association can differentiate itself from its top competitors is the feedback from its residents. “Success breeds success,” she adds. “We can’t afford to carry any employee with a bad attitude. One person can de-motivate a whole team and your staff can’t give fantastic customer service if they’re miserable or badly managed.”
Jacobson put in place a leadership development programme, ensuring ‘HR with oomph’ runs through the business. “We coach our managers to conduct monthly reviews, ensuring they recognise and value their staff,” she says.
“Training is critical, and managers spend 30% of their time mentoring and coaching their teams.” Poor performers face disciplinary procedures, but only as a last resort.
Jacobson set up L&Q’s Our People agenda in 2000, which included a range of rewards and benefits, including the annual outstanding achiever awards, for which employees are nominated by their manager, colleagues or residents, with winners taking part in an Oscars-style ceremony.
This ensures that employee success is recognised at every level. “My board colleagues are now convinced that people hold the key to our success, and that the can-do attitude of our people has been instrumental in encouraging other organisations to join the group,” says Jacobson.
Last year employee satisfaction was up to 90% from 65% in 1999. That same proportion of employees also feels they are treated with respect by colleagues and that they are well trained, and 88% believe they work in a friendly atmosphere. “Our employees feel really positive about what they are doing,” she adds.
The organisation has one of the lowest staff turnover rates in its sector, at just 11.7% compared with an average of 20%, while sickness absence is below 2%. This year, Jacobson intends to review the annual staff survey and introduce a new set of people initiatives.
“Our people do a fantastic job, often in difficult circumstances,” she says. “It’s our job in HR to do everything we can to make that experience as good as possible and to continue to create a place where people love to work.”
Kuoni Travel: Nicola Sadowski
When Nicola Sadowski joined Kuoni Travel UK as head of HR in 2004, she inherited a small HR team of three. Today it stands at 17. The company was already well established without HR at the top of the business agenda, so the challenge was to make a quick impact by challenging the mindset of senior management.
The risk, she says, has paid off. “I was keen to demonstrate that HR can be more than a basic paper-pushing exercise, so I worked closely with the managing director to put HR at the forefront of business,” she says.
The HR function is now split into two divisions: the HR services group, which deals with the contractual side while HR development drives training, business support and new initiatives.
Kuoni’s head office is in Zurich, but the UK headquarters are in Surrey and house up to 400 staff including marketing, product and customer services, operations, finance, IT and HR, plus a call centre with 120 employees.
Sadowski is also responsible for the welfare of the company’s overseas representatives and an additional staff of more than 180 from companies Kuoni has acquired. The UK annual turnover in 2006 was £303m.
Sadowski believes HR should perform regular health checks of the business and adapt to changing business objectives. She attends a weekly directors’ meeting, a move that has encouraged management to view HR as instrumental to its business.
“The travel industry is a competitive market, so Kuoni is all about selling dreams, not just holidays,” she says. To make this happen, she believes that it is HR’s role to develop initiatives to help fuel the buzz of the workplace, and boost staff momentum by delivering learning and development in a fun way.
The HR team runs themed days to celebrate product launches. For example, Kuoni recently launched a new American travel brochure, so employees were encouraged to come to work dressed in red, white and blue, or cowboy outfits. Other activities such as quizzes and prizes helped reinforce learning on the day.
“Life’s too short not to have fun at work,” she says. “In HR, we do everything we can to inject fun and laughter so that employees are passionate and love what they do.”
HR was approached by management to support the ‘Crazy Team’ concept, in which seven ‘ideas’ people were identified and invited to become part of a core brainstorming team. HR has also created Star of the Day. A sign has been put up in the company canteen and is updated daily with individual achievements, such as an employee reaching or exceeding a high sales target.
There are regular innovation awards, based on employee suggestions on how to streamline processes or assist the business. The ideas are judged by an innovation committee, which feeds back to everyone who has entered. Other HR initiatives include: a weekly ‘what’s on’ e-mail, which keeps employees updated on company news a staff intranet launched in 2006 called KISS (Kuoni Information Service 4 Staff) and a social calendar including sporting events, barbecues and parties.
“We treat employees as internal clients and want them to be happy in their working environment,” says Sadowski. “The accumulation of tasks, activities and product learning ensures the HR team has real involvement in the business and keeps our employees engaged.”